“I love Zahra a lot,” says Naveed Ahmadi, who fell in love with Zahra Saifey, an English teacher. Naveed, an ethnic Tajik from Kabul, says his love affairs with Zahra, who is a Shia Hazara, made him feel that he was no longer alone.
The love journey, which marked in 2010, put Zahra and Naveed in a difficult situation and time—in a country where intermingling marriages are quiet rare.
On a summer vacation when Zahra makes a comeback to home from Bangladesh, Naveed sets a date to meet his future wife in a library in Kabul. “One day, we secretly met at a bookstore, and chatted for less than ten minutes. The next year, I left for Tajikistan for my bachelor study. We didn’t meet for four years,” Naveed says.
Ethnic identity and sect were a mountain of barrier between Zahra and Naveed. Zahar’s parents appeared resisting when first learned about their daughter’s love affairs with Naveed. Not only Zahra’s family was hesitant to consent, Naveed’s mother was equally resistant to this distinctly heterodox idea.
Years of conflict, dominance of tribal culture, social stereotypes, and tribal relationships divide human beings across different lines in Afghanistan. Today’s Afghanistan is a country which is divided across ethnic politics. But the division existing in the country goes far more beyond power politics. In real day-to-day life ordinary Afghans think they are different from each other, and this otherness constitutes a significant segment of tribal culture and code. Afghan tribes never treat each other as equals.
When I came back to Kabul, my parents were still resisting against my wishes to marry Zahra. In their eyes I was too a sentimental young boy, and they unable to realize that our love story was crafted not only by emotion but also by a strong conviction, Naveed told me.
“The good thing about Naveed’s and my family is that they are good listeners. Naveed’s and my family have always listened to us,” Zahra says.
In 2014, after four years of being in a relationship with Zahra, Naveed convinces her family to go to Zahra’s family and offer for Zahra’s hand on his behalf. Zahra’s parents reject Naveed’s proposal repeatedly. Naveed’s family, tired of the situation and repeated refusal, gives Naveed a choice: “either us or Zahra, you have to choose one.”
A strong faith in love moves the mountains. Naveed and Zahra never give up. They keep trying to convince their families and their love wins the minds and hearts of rigidly resilient families.
In 2018 Zahra’s family give consent to marriage proposal offered by Naveed Ahmadi. The young lovers finally managed to get married.
But social stereotypes and tribal codes of conduct are too rigid to be broken overnight. Naveed and Zahra, though enjoying a happy marriage life, their close relatives do not feel comfortable to invite the newlyweds.
“Most our close relatives do not even invite my parents in their functions,” says Zahra. The couple might be facing hardship for their bold choice but they are happy and enjoy life. “Sometimes, it’s worth take a risk and make our own choice, live differently, for ourselves,” says Naveed, and Zahra nods her head as sign of agreement.
In a country, divided across ethnic and tribal lines, Zahra and Naveed may not change certain fabricated social norms right away, their marriage might help the tribes bridge their gaps in the future.